The face of the unknown

Alice De Visscher’s Dream or Nightmare of Motherhood

De Visscher’s performance-based video is a 4 minute loop enacting two literal dreams, possibly nightmarish, about having a baby. The video consists of two actions performed by the artist, filmed naked from the waist up, standing against the cream-coloured tiles of her kitchen wall.

Action Number 1: “My stomach inflates like a balloon until it breaks.”

Her face is hidden behind a white balloon. She is blowing. We see her stomach expand and contract as she blows, waiting for it to burst. The balloon disappears with a pop. There is an immediate repression of any sign of shock, or surprise. Her face and body remain composed.

Action Number 2: “Two washcloths on my breasts; milk is flowing from them.”

(Photo by Henry Chan)

She stands in the same position as before, only this time with two washcloth mitts, full of milk and held in place with string, hanging over her breasts. The milk very slowly leaks from the mitts and trickles down her stomach. This dream/action is inspired by a French expression: “to have breasts like washcloths/avoir des seins comme des gants de toilette.”

The artist statement reads: “I’m not yet a mother. I don’t know what to be a mother means. I dream to be one and I fear to be one.”

The video speaks to the alienation so easy to imagine, the strangeness of having a child, and yet, a strangeness based on a total lack of evidence. You know nothing about what it’s like to have a child, or how you will react, until it happens.

There is a lot of fear in the absence of the experience. Fear of losing your beauty, of being ugly and soggy and flat and droopy. The loss of control over your own body. The humiliation of pain and weakness, of infirmity. The fear of blowing up like a balloon until you burst.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The face of the unknown

  1. miguel invierno

    a face hidden behind a white balloon. a face that has not given birth. good piece. mw

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